Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tim Koch: The Great Eight

Three of the Eight: Ondrej Synek, Warren Anderson, and Mahe Drysdale. Photo: Row2K
Tim Koch writes from London:

HTBS is presently speculating about the make up of the perfect crew. In 2009 however, British international coach Bill Barry did not just dream about a ‘Great Eight’, he made it happen. In what must have been an enormous feat of organization (British sculler Alan Campbell told the BBC that ‘it took three years to pull this project together’), he assembled the following crew of great Olympic and World Championship scullers:

Bow - Tim Maeyens (Belgium, 4th in 2008 Olympic final)
2 - Andre Vonarburg (Switzerland, 9th overall in 2008 Olympics)
3 - Alan Campbell (Britain, 5th in 2008 Olympic Final)
4 - Marcel Hacker (Germany, bronze, 2000 Olympics & 7th overall in 2008 Olympics)
5 - Mahe Drysdale (New Zealand, bronze, Beijing 2008; three times world champion)
6 - Olaf Tufte (Norway, Olympic champion 2008, 2004)
7 - Ondrej Synek (Czech, silver, 2008 Olympics)
Stroke - Iztok Cop (Slovenia, gold in 2x, 2000 Olympics & silver in 2x, 2004 Olympics)

Bill Barry
In March 2009, the ‘dream team’ had their first test, rowing against that year’s Cambridge crew on a 2.5 km course from Putney to Hammersmith. In assembling fantasy crews that will never actually come together, the practicalities of such an exercise are never factored in. In the real world, Cambridge had been together for five months, the Champions had only five practice sessions. Also, the Light Blues were training to peak at the Boat Race a week later while their opposition were training to peak (individually) at the World Championships which was five months away. Some people speculated that the sort of individual that was attracted to competing in the single scull would not make a good crew rower.

Olaf Tufte
In the first of two races the more practiced boat predictably had a better start and won by 2/3 of a length. In the second race it at first looked as if it would be a rerun of the first but it is dangerous to make highly competitive people angry and, with better rhythm and two monster pushes, the Great Eight reached Hammersmith Bridge first. Olaf Tufte told the BBC’s Martin Gough:

“I didn’t expect to crush anyone…. They’ve been together for six months, they’re well-organised and they’re timing is good…. If you’d given our boat a couple of months, we’d definitely be the best [in the world] but rowing in an eight is about much more than power.”

New Zealand TV made this nice video here:

Ali Williams. Photo: flyby
A few days later, Barry’s eight went off at number five in the Head of the River Race on the Thames Championship Course. In their sights were the Leander crew who went off first and who included five Beijing medallists. The theory that single scullers cannot form a crew was dashed when the Great Eight went ‘Head of the river’, four seconds faster than the boys from the Pink Palace. Seven months later they repeated this performance across the Atlantic when six of the original crew, plus Lassi Karonen of Sweden and Warren Anderson of the U.S. (replacing Olaf Tufte and Andre Vonarburg), entered the Head of the Charles in Boston, where they were skillfully coxed by Ali Williams. There is a nice interview with Anderson here.

The result? They won the Championship Eights, going over the finish line at 42 plus. It seems that dreams - and dream teams - sometimes become real.


  1. Great article and a great crew but what about the cox! She did a great job to bring all those "singletons" into one superb winning unit. Worth having her name on the crew list at least! An undervalued skill IMHO.

    1. Yes, of course, we agree. Ali's name is now in the article, and so is a small pic of her!

  2. Thank you for the complement. I assure you that I am not 'coxist' (if that is a word) as I am frequently to be found in a boat, facing the wrong way and shouting. Of course I am full of respect for anyone who would take charge of eight strong minded individuals who are in the habit of making their own decisions. There is also the danger of whiplash....